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Greece wildfires rip through towns as residents watch in horror

Raging wildfires have ripped through parts of Greece for six straight days, forcing thousands of people to flee as the blazes threatened entire towns.
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KRYONERI, Greece — Diomataris Glakousakis watched in horror as scorching flames engulfed a forest near his home.

"This is a punishment," said Glakousakis, 53, a farmer from the suburban town of Kryoneri, just outside the Greek capital, Athens. "This is man's fault."

Glakousakis said he had never lived through anything like it before.

Sweaty and exhausted from a long night, Glakousakis had defied mandatory evacuation orders alongside about a dozen other men to stay and protect their homes using olive branches, buckets of water and household fire extinguishers.

Next to Glakousakis' land, two priests stood on the rooftop of a monastery desperately spraying garden hoses around the building's perimeter.

"We didn't have help from anyone," Glakousakis said. "Only God helped us. Only God."

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Raging wildfires have ripped through parts of Greece for six straight days, forcing thousands of people to flee as the blazes threatened entire towns and burned down homes, shops and vast areas of land in their path.

An unprecedented heat wave — Greece's worst in three decades — sent temperatures soaring over the past week as firefighters worked tirelessly to extinguish the uncontrollable flames.

Greece has also deployed the army to battle the fires, and several countries, including France, Egypt, Switzerland and Spain, have sent help.

Image: Wildfire in Gouves, Greece
A wildfire rages near the village of Gouves on Euboea, the second-largest Greek island.Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP - Getty Images

For the third straight day, thousands of people were evacuated from the large forested Greek island of Evia, just east of Athens, on Sunday. Residents and tourists watched from the ferry in terror as the blazes lit up the sky in a bright, fiery red.

More than 570 firefighters were working to contain the blaze, authorities said.

Fires that threatened the northern suburbs of Athens have died down, but their ferocity has left a trail of destruction that residents fear will take years to recover from.

"A forest of 100, 200 years was lost in a single night," Glakousakis said. "It will take years to grow back. It's sad."

Kryoneri's chief volunteer firefighter said crews were "surrounded" by the flames and were struggling to keep up with containment efforts even though planes and helicopters have been circling to drop water on the blaze.

With the fire department overwhelmed, armies of volunteers on motorbikes darted among flare-ups in the northern suburbs outside Athens, arriving with buckets of water often before fire trucks could be redirected.

The Associated Press reported that a volunteer firefighter was killed in Athens on Friday after having suffered a head injury from a falling electricity pole, while at least 20 people have been treated in hospitals since the fires erupted.

Authorities are investigating what caused the blazes. Three people were arrested Friday in different areas on suspicion of starting blazes, according to the AP.

Image: Wildfire in Afidnes, Greece
Fire spreads in the village of Afidnes north of Athens.Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP - Getty Images

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed his "deep sadness" Saturday over the firefighter's death.

"When this nightmarish summer has passed, we will turn all our attention to repairing the damage as fast as possible and in restoring our natural environment again," Mitsotakis said.

Mitsotakis last week blamed climate change for the devastating fires, urging people who had reservations to "come and see the intensity of the phenomena."

Greek and other European officials have blamed climate change for the large number of fires that burned through southern Europe in recent days, from Italy to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

In the U.S., the Dixie Fire in Northern California became the largest blaze in the country Friday and the third largest in the state's history.

For Glakousakis, climate change is clearly to blame.

"We should consider what legacy we are handing down to our children," he said. "This was passed down to us. What will we give? Scorched earth? How will they live?"

Molly Hunter and Tony Hemmings reported from Kryoneri, and Rhea Mogul reported from London.